I am not what I publish

ashtray

I think I might have grown weary of online conversations, I suspect they only go one way.

Were it a normal one (read: face-to-face), there would likely and immediately be some kind of palpable feedback, even if negative. At least I could choose to deal with, say, disinterest in some physical, human way, as it is somewhat detectable in body language (and hence counts as feedback). On a website where everything is recorded for posterity I don’t have the luxury of such a reaction, like for instance walking away. And before you even utter the words “comments’ section” or “social sharing”, let me establish right away that I don’t think that an online comment to an online post can ever stand for real conversation. Also, “social sharing” is no more than a reheating of yesterday’s dinner and it doesn’t even get to live that long.

More to the point is perhaps the fact that I’m slowly finding myself incapable of sharing here only parts of all those things that amaze me, that I can’t conceive of a relationship where my interlocutor gets to pick and choose fragments of my discourse, and broadcast them as an epiphany of their own. It may sound selfish and excessively meticulous, but I do not believe that those fragments fully exist outside of both the wider context of the discourse they belong to, and the dialogue they may or may not foster (see “disinterest”, above). I am most certainly not enthusiastic about sharing the tidbit, the odd post, without having the opportunity to let the whole of me transmit the wonderment in every possible way.

To me, sharing something which I find elevating, funny or whimsical is after all no more than a seed, one from which a whole world of serendipity should grow, one which ought to encompass the whole of me and the whole of you, including the body language, the looks exchanged, the misapprehensions, the tangents, the pauses, everything. If you take part of me or part of you out of this, then there is nothing left: what we end up with is a bastard, an online variant of the “friend zone”. I mean I am all in favour of us all reaching for those bits which augment our resonance to beauty, but standing alone on the supply side is not particularly fascinating.

I am aware that the internet is fantastic for reinventing yourself or for giving you a chance of being who you want to be, but here’s the thing: I don’t want to “be” anyone, I just want to become whoever the conversation leads me to be.

I want to grow, not be.

Paul Watzlawick once said that you cannot not communicate. Well, it appears that online you can, especially while trying to communicate.

• • •

Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more

(or “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”)

It is astonishing that the score to Allegri’s Miserere Mei was such a closely guarded secret by the Holy See — it was considered to be “too beautiful” — that whoever was caught copying it was threatened with excommunication (which nevertheless didn’t stop Mozart, who else, from transcribing it from memory at age 14).

Performances today are probably less ornate than what the Roman school would have recommended back in the 17th century, but it remains a work of breathtaking beauty.

 

• • •

Readers

Read deeply, not to believe, not to accept, not to contradict, but to learn to share in that one nature that writes and reads.

Harold Bloom — How to Read and Why

• • •

Writers

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Thomas Mann

• • •

Rott & Mahler: Fellows, Masters or Students

Hans Rott, a fellow pupil of Mahler at the Vienna Conservatory, managed not only to publish before him, but to also influence Mahler himself: his Symphony No.1 in E major eerily announces Mahler’s early work.

Rott died insane at the age of 26. Too much beauty?

• • •

Helpless Child

Often a man can play the helpless child in front of a woman, but he can almost never bring it off when he feels most like an helpless child.

F. Scott Fitzgerald — Tender is the Night

• • •

The Silent Sea

(or, my first true gesamterfahrung of the French language.)

Il fut précédé par un grand déploiement d’appareil militaire. D’abord deux troufions, tous deux très blonds, l’un dégingandé et maigre, l’autre carré, aux mains de carrier. Ils regardèrent la maison, sans entrer. Plus tard vint un sous-officier. Le troufion dégingandé l’accompa­gnait. Ils me parlèrent, dans ce qu’ils supposaient être du français. Je ne comprenais pas un mot. Pourtant je leur montrai les chambres libres. Ils parurent contents.

Vercors — Le Silence de la Mer

I did have some contact with it before that, but not at the level of actually analyzing literary works. As a portuguese high-school student my experience of it had been a very formal and limited one, where many grammatical rules were taught, verb conjugations were reviewed with an iron resolve and vocabulary was an afterthought. It is little wonder that I consistently and predictably flunked the class, year after year after year.

It was more a source of concern for my parents than it was for me, seen that my grades were generally acceptable but for French and I really couldn’t see the point of the whole thing.

All of that changed very quickly: from nowhere it was announced to us that we would be moving to Belgium. In seven days. As in, leave-everything-behind-that-you-cannot-carry-and-ship-to-a-country-that-you’ve-never-even-heard-of seven days which, at age thirteen, sounds adventurous rather than disquieting. We were ecstatic: among many others, language was certainly a concern, but we were moving there as a whole family and if you combine that with the fact that Portugal invented the very concept of desenrascanço, what could possibly go wrong?

As expected, the whole thing became markedly less amusing once we arrived in Brussels.

We, or at least I, seemed to have overseen a small but crucial detail: every single person was a stranger to me with little incentive to correct my very approximate command of the language. This was at times funny but infuriating most of the time: I retributed by hating them all immediately.

School of course was a whole different matter: for one, with the exception of Dutch and English classes, all of the syllabus was in French. Mathematics, History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry all of them in French. French in French, obviously. Even Physical Education was in French. It was assumed that I was sufficiently adroit as to follow along, which I mostly did. Not that I hated any of them any less, mind you.

I will never forget the first lines of Le Silence de la Mer as long as I live. The memory of the anguish they produced in me when I first read them is etched so deep in my brain that I can remember the temperature of the room, the cover of the book, the colour of the teacher’s shirt and the sudden sweat in my forehead, as if it had all happened five minutes ago.

I couldn’t even begin to understand it. Grand, deux, maison and français vaguely rang a bell but that was about it. And yet Il fut précédé par un grand déploiement d’appareil militaire, incomprehensible as it was, was under a 3/3 sway which was hard to ignore, like a charming valse musette (but I only found out about those much later.)

It took me months to get past that first paragraph, but I finally managed to not only get past it, but more importantly to enjoy it immensely. The way Vercors prepares a story in a single paragraph, transmitting at the same time a feeling of triviality and impending doom with so few and so well-wrought words is mesmerizing. What first astonished me was: Ils me parlèrent, dans ce qu’ils supposaient être du français. Je ne comprenais pas un mot or, They spoke to me in what they supposed to be French. I didn’t understand a word. It sounded as if he was describing me.

I can’t objectively claim that the whole novella is as brilliant as I think it is. It is to me, if not for the language (which is wonderful), at least for the simple fact that, for once in my life, I can place an exact date, location and feeling to what would become a life-changing event.

At some point, after many books and many teachers I finally dreamt in French. Not by choice or determination, but because the music was irresistible. And I didn’t hate them at all, how could I?

I was them now.

(Dédié à Nath, à qui j’aurais dû raconter cette histoire il y a bien longtemps☺)

• • •

Hell

Hell is the incapacity to be other than the creature one finds oneself ordinarily behaving as.

Aldous Huxley — Eyeless in Gaza

• • •

The whole and the part

Whoever reaches into a rosebush may seize a handful of flowers; but no matter how many one holds, it’s only a small portion of the whole. Nevertheless, a handful is enough to experience the nature of the flowers. Only if we refuse to reach into the bush, because we can’t possibly seize all the flowers at once, or if we spread out our handful of roses as if it were the whole of the bush itself—only then does it bloom apart from us, unknown to us, and we are left alone.

Lou Andreas-Salomé — Lebensrückblick

• • •